Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Survey of largest archival of Hubble data reveals why some planets are hot

ScientiFix, our weekly feature, offers you a summary of the top global science stories of the week, with links to their sources.

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In a new study, a team of scientists from University College London (UCL) analysed hundreds of hours of observations, looking at the atmospheres of 25 so-called Hot Jupiters — which are exoplanets about as massive as the planet Jupiter.

Using over 600 hours of observations by the Hubble Space Telescope and 400 hours of observations by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope, the study found that some of the atmospheres of these planets contain high concentrations of hydrogen, titanium oxide, vanadium oxide, and iron hydride. These atmospheres displayed what is known as thermal inversion. Thermal inversion takes place when the atmospheric temperature rises with altitude — instead of dropping as we see on Earth.

They found that almost all the exoplanets with a thermally inverted atmosphere were extremely hot, with temperatures over 1726 degrees centigrade (2000 Kelvins). These planets were sufficiently hot that compounds like titanium oxide, vanadium oxide, and iron hydride are stable in an atmosphere.

Scientists are now proposing these compounds may be leading to thermal inversion. It might be that exoplanet atmospheres hot enough to sustain these species tend to be thermally inverted because they then absorb so much stellar light that their upper atmospheres heat up even more. Read more

Also read: Scientists decode how Jupiter’s moon got its dune

Ichthyosaur fossils on the Alps came from three ancient oceans

Meanwhile, scientists have determined that fossils of whale-sized marine reptiles called ichthyosaurs that were recovered from the Alps more than 30 years ago came from three different creatures more than 200 million years ago.

The first ichthyosaurs swam through the primordial oceans in the early Triassic period about 250 million years ago. They had an elongated body and a relatively small head. But shortly before most of them became extinct some 200 million years ago, they evolved into gigantic forms.

With an estimated weight of 80 tons and a length of more than 20 meters, these prehistoric giants would have rivalled a sperm whale.

Researchers from the University of Zurich had recovered fossils between 1976 and 1990 during geological mapping in the Kössen Formation. More than 200 million years before, the rock layers with the fossils still covered the seafloor. With the folding of the Alps, however, they had ended up at an altitude of 2,800 meters.

The team has now determined that the fossils come from three different animals that lived about 205 million years ago. From one of the ichthyosaurs, a vertebra is preserved together with ten rib fragments. Their sizes suggest that the reptile was probably 20 meters in length.

In contrast, only a series of vertebrae were excavated from a second ichthyosaur. Comparison with better preserved skeletal finds suggests a length of about 15 meters. Read more

Also read: Ancient rock shows there was life on Earth 3.75 billion years ago, much earlier than we thought

Swarm of 85,000 earthquakes off the coast of Antarctica

Scientists have detected a swarm of more than 85,000 earthquakes in 2020 in the deep sea off the coast of Antarctica — demonstrating that such events can be studied and described in great detail even in remote and poorly instrumented areas.

The swarm quake was discovered at the deep-sea volcano Orca, which has been inactive for a long time. Led by researchers from the German Research Centre for Geosciences, the team combined the application of seismological, geodetic, and remote sensing techniques, to determine how the rapid transfer of magma from the Earth’s mantle near the crust-mantle boundary to almost the surface led to the swarm quake.

Swarm quakes occur mainly in volcanically active regions. The movement of fluids in the Earth’s crust is therefore suspected as the cause. Orca seamount is a large submarine shield volcano with a height of about 900 metres above the sea floor and a base diameter of about 11 kilometres.

In the past, seismicity in this region was moderate. However, in August 2020, an intense seismic swarm began there, with more than 85,000 earthquakes within half a year. It represents the largest seismic unrest ever recorded in the region. Read more

Also read: Squids can change colour to evade predators & scientists have spotted the farthest galaxy yet

Zoom meetings make people less creative

While the pandemic may have turned Zoom meetings into a new normal, a new study revealed that video conference discussions stifle creativity and that meeting face to face produced more ideas.

A team from Stanford University and Columbia University that conducted lab experiments and a field study at a firm with offices around the world, revealed that heavy reliance on technology comes at a cost to creative thinking.

The team had started their study before the pandemic when managers of the firm reported having trouble innovating with remote workers. Suspecting that difficulties coordinating large, global teams online might be to blame, researchers recruited more than 600 volunteers who were paired up to tackle a creativity task either together in the same room, or virtually.

The pairs had five minutes to come up with creative uses for a Frisbee or bubble wrap and a minute to select their best idea. Overall, those who worked over Zoom had 20 per cent fewer ideas than those who met face-to-face.

The team then conducted a field study, where researchers analysed ideas for new products generated by 1,490 engineers for a multinational company. The engineers, who were in India, Finland, Hungary, Israel, and Portugal, were randomly paired up and given an hour to brainstorm products either in person or over videoconferencing.

According to the study, engineers produced more innovative ideas when working face-to-face. Read more

Also read: Scientists discover 6-million-year-old fossil of day-hunting owl in China

Global warming could trigger a marine mass extinction

Scientists at Princeton University predict that as greenhouse gas emissions continue to warm the world’s oceans, marine biodiversity could be on track to plummet within the next few centuries to levels not seen since the extinction of the dinosaurs.

The team modeled future marine biodiversity under different projected climate scenarios. They found that if emissions are not curbed, species losses from warming and oxygen depletion alone could come to mirror the substantial impact humans already have on marine biodiversity by around 2100.

Tropical waters would experience the greatest loss of biodiversity, while polar species are at the highest risk of extinction. The study found, however, that reversing greenhouse gas emissions could reduce the risk of extinction by more than 70 per cent. Read more

(Edited by: Manoj Ramachandran)

Also read: Why human speech will sound garbled on Mars & lettuce to help astronauts retain bone mass


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